Category Archives: writing
Get a Grip on Your Grammar: 250 Writing and Editing Reminders for the Curious or Confused by Kris Spisak (2017)
It never ceases to amaze me how many people use “there,” “their,” and “they’re” incorrectly. The abuse of the English language is on full display on social media, on blogs, and even in printed materials. Call me a Grammar Nazi if you must (though I rarely point out another’s wrongness), but I cringe when I read “your special” or “its okay.” In light of the preponderance of grammatical errors in the twenty-first century, Kris Spisak’s Get a Grip on Your Grammar should be a prerequisite to obtaining a Facebook account, let alone writing a report for school or work.
The red banner on the front cover says it all: “A Grammar Book for Those Who Hate Grammar.” The English language can be confusing, and Spisak addresses with clarity and humor 250 common mistakes found in modern writing. There are five sections in the book: “Word Usage,” “Punctuation,” “Idioms,” “Business Writing and Etiquette,” and “Creative Writing and Storytelling.” What is the difference between “accept” and “except”? When should you use single quotation marks as opposed to double quotation marks? Is the proper phrase “for all intents and purposes” or “for all intensive purposes”? Spisak concisely explains all of these and more without going over the reader’s head.
Spisak also addresses the use of slang and jargon in professional writing, as well as several habits a writer should avoid. In the last section of the book, she writes about problems aspiring creative writers often face, and offers tips to edit many of those problems out of their pieces. While reading, I was reminded of several mistakes that I commonly make in my blog posts, church bulletin articles, and (for the moment) unpublished fiction. No doubt, I need to use “Ctrl” + “F” more often and trim my writing.
Get a Grip on Your Grammar is an indispensable resource that should be on every person’s bookshelf, whether that person is writing professionally, blogging, or just jotting thoughtful notes of encouragement to their friends and family.
A writer writes, right? If you’re going to be a writer (or better yet, an author), you need to know what you’re getting yourself into. Want to write a novel? You need some idea of how many words you need to put on the page. As John Knowles wrote in A Separate Peace, “There was no harm in taking aim, even if the target was a dream.”
What follows is a list of fairly well-known books and word counts, from least to most. Some are classics, others are more recent productions. Make of it what you will.
|George Orwell||Animal Farm||29,060|
|John Steinbeck||Of Mice and Men||29,572|
|Ray Bradbury||Fahrenheit 451||46,118|
|F Scott Fitzgerald||The Great Gatsby||47,094|
|John Knowles||A Separate Peace||56,787|
|William Golding||Lord of the Flies||59,900|
|Nathaniel Hawthorne||The Scarlet Letter||63,604|
|Aldous Huxley||Brave New World||63,766|
|Alice Walker||The Color Purple||66,556|
|John Green||The Fault in Our Stars||67,203|
|John Green||Looking for Alaska||69,023|
|Mark Twain||The Adventures of Tom Sawyer||69,066|
|JK Rowling||Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone||77,508|
|Ransom Riggs||Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children||84,898|
|Rick Riordan||The Lightning Thief||87,223|
|George Orwell||Nineteen Eighty-Four||88,942|
|Harper Lee||To Kill a Mockingbird||100,388|
|Mark Twain||The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn||109,571|
|Henry David Thoreau||Walden||114,634|
|Charles Dickens||A Tale of Two Cities||135,420|
|Stephen King||Pet Sematary||141,912|
|John Steinbeck||The Grapes of Wrath||169,481|
|JK Rowling||Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows||198,227|
|JK Rowling||Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix||257,154|
Finishing School: The Happy Ending to That Writing Project You Can’t Seem to Get Done by Cary Tennis and Danelle Morton (2017)
The title of this book grabbed me immediately. Of course I have a writing project that I can’t seem to get done. I’ve had this idea bouncing around my head since I was a junior in high school, over twenty years ago. I’ve started it several times, and I have finished one version of it, but it didn’t feel right and I have (in my mind) tinkered with it more and more. But here’s the rub: I haven’t touched it in nearly three years. Do I want to finish it? Absolutely. Do I know how to do that? Absolutely not.
This is where Finishing School comes in. Cary Tennis, the creator of the concept, and Danelle Morton, one of his first Finishing School pupils, do not tell you how to write your book, but how to finish it. This isn’t a typical writing book. There is nothing said about characterization or plot or point of view or voice. It’s all about getting it done. Quantity over quality (because quality comes after quantity is achieved). Tennis notes that regret often comes from failure to try. He writes, “It doesn’t hurt so much if you tried and failed. It does not weigh so heavily on the conscience. But failure to try can really haunt you. So try, at least.”
The authors begin by addressing “The Six Emotional Pitfalls” which cause many aspiring writers to simply give up, and how to acknowledge those struggles and move past them as you do your work. Again, Finishing School is not about how to make your writing better, but simply how to finish it. After addressing the emotional obstacles many writers face, Tennis and Morton explain the concept and execution of Finishing School, and how it differs from traditional writing groups. “The issue we tackle is not the is not the quality of the work on any given Tuesday but the habit of writing….Finishing School’s sole focus is the steady application of time to the craft, every week reinforcing the qualities and habits necessary to one day saying that you are done.”
Time management plays a major role in the program. The aspiring writer has to state clear goals and set aside a sufficient amount of time to accomplish them during the week. Some will commit more time than others, but if one is not willing to carve out a slice of the clock for writing, is there really any commitment present? This has been a major problem for me, and Finishing School has encouraged me to take an honest look at both my writing and my desire to write.
Tennis and Morton also teach the reader how to create a Finishing School with other local writers, either one-on-one or a group. The authors finish their book with a section titled, “Finishing,” including a look at John Steinbeck’s self-torture while he wrote the classic, The Grapes of Wrath. Every author, no matter how accomplished, faces similar emotional pitfalls. But one thing is certain: “If finishing this project is something you really want to do, you have to go after it with everything you have within you.”
More of a motivational book than a “how to write” book, Finishing School just might give you the push you need to get back into that long-neglected novel/screenplay/poetry/short story anthology/whatever-project-you-have-not-looked-at-in-years. Before reading Finishing School, I last looked at my draft almost three years ago. Now I am looking at my calendar to determine the best time for me to tackle it again.
Dissatisfied with telling her creative students to “just write,” author Scarlett Thomas attempted to teach the deeper topics of literary theory to help them write better. She began lecturing on these deeper topics, and over time discovered that she had enough material for a book on writing. Monkeys With Typewriters: How to Write Fiction and Unlock the Secret Power of Stories is an excellent look at both the theory and practice of storytelling.
Thomas begins by examining a variety of literary works as well as Hollywood storylines, from Plato to Aristotle, Pride and Prejudice to Great Expectations, The Matrix to Toy Story. After reviewing numerous examples, Thomas summarizes the eight basic plots found in literature before launching into the “practice” portion of her book. She introduces the concept of using matrices in planning a novel, including categories that utilize what you know, what you think, and where you live, among others. She includes a blank matrix with further questions that the aspiring novelist can use to develop their own characters and worlds.
After discussing the value of the matrix, Thomas delves into styles of narration and the choices beyond first and third person, characterization and the importance of loving all your characters, and the value of writing good sentences, an area I continue to struggle with in my own writing. In the final chapter of the “practice” section, the author encourages the reader to become an author, to write a novel, to actually put into practice what they have just read. She offers a number of tips on note taking and brainstorming, drafting, and even offers a checklist of questions to ask yourself about your work.
Perhaps the most interesting and important question is this: “If the only copy of my novel was stranded on the top of a mountain, would I go up to rescue it?” The depth of that questions hits hard, but if you have poured your heart and soul into your creation, how could you possibly answer, “No”?
For those who cannot shake the desire to write, Monkeys With Typewriters might just give you the motivation, encouragement, and guidance you need to start tapping those keys.
There are certain resource materials that every writer must possess in his arsenal, including a dependable dictionary and thesaurus. Words are the building blocks of language, and a dictionary and thesaurus will assist in putting one’s thoughts together in an understandable manner. Whether one is using those words appropriately, however, is another matter. In his massive Garner’s Modern English Usage: Fourth Edition, linguist Bryan Garner addresses the proper way to put words together.
In addition to more than 6,000 entries on grammar, syntax, punctuation, style, and more, Garner addresses the battle between prescriptive linguists and descriptive linguists. Prescribers are known to suggest how language should be used, while describers simply observe and report on how it is used. Garner falls more into the prescriptive camp, though he concedes there are some battles lost long ago that should not be resurrected. Garner does report on how language is used, utilizing modern tools such as Google’s ngrams to make this one of the most reliable linguistic guides ever, but he does not shy away from denouncing improper usage when needed.
As a resource, Garner’s Modern English Usage: Fourth Edition is a valuable tool. Not as indispensable as a standard dictionary or thesaurus, but it is a fantastic tool that can be used to give one’s writing more accuracy.
The most recent update to OxfordDictionaries.com sees a host of new words added from the worlds of politics, popular culture, and social media. You can see ten highlights from the update below. In each case, clicking on the word will take you through to the word’s new dictionary entry, where you can see full definitions, example sentences, and more.
autocorreck verb (of software) cause (text) to contain mistakes by means of an autocorrect or autocomplete function: “I wrote a great text to her, but ‘love’ was autocorrecked to ‘move’.”
[Blend of autocorrect and wreck]
parrotocracy noun a hypothetical society governed by people selected according to their ability to repeat slogans and soundbites mechanically, or to repeat or steal the policies and ideas of others: “Heaven help us if we end up with a parrotocracy.”
[from parrot and -cracy]
reply-gall noun the perceived impudence of an individual who sends an email response to everyone addressed in the original message: “His reply-gall became infamous after he sent an 1800-word response to a company-wide announcement.”
[from reply + gall after reply-all]
Instayam noun a Thanksgiving photograph shared on social media: “Before we ate, we had to send an Instayam.”
[blend of Instagram and yam]
Leo verb to achieve something after years of trying: “I feel like I’ve Leoed this morning; I finally passed my driving test.”
[from the name of Leonardo DiCaprio, with allusion to his winning the 2016 Academy Award for Best Actor after six unsuccessful nominations.]
fanishment noun the state of being blocked by a celebrity on social media: “Steve’s fanishment was inevitable after he tweeted at the star footballer 1000 times in a single day.”
[blend of fan and banishment]
Obamacar noun (humorous) a hypothetical scheme under which current President of the United States Barack Obama would provide free cars for every citizen in America: “Republican commentators cracked wise about the so-called Obamacar.”
[from Obama + car, after Obamacare]
otter café noun a café or similar establishment where people pay to interact with otters housed on the premises: “Locals are already excited by the prospect of the area’s first otter café.”
LOYO abbreviation laughing on your own (used online in reply to a joke that others have not found amusing): “A better joke next time, please. LOYO.”
social fleedia noun a situation in which one or more social media users choose to close their accounts: “Commentators are seeing a huge rise in millennials encouraging social fleedia.”
“Social media continues to be a vital and constantly evolving catalyst for linguistic innovation,” says Richard Snary, a lexicographer at Oxford Dictionaries. “We’re recognizing this with words which specifically reference these sites, such as Instayam, fanishment, and social fleedia, but Twitter also accounts for much of our corpus data for Obamacar, LOYO, and the verb to Leo. In two of these examples, we’re seeing how the creation and sharing of memes relating to a specific public figure can quickly gain traction and help a coinage enter the language – and our language monitoring programme is uniquely placed to observe and record these changes.”
[JT sez: I think they have gone too far this time. When will the idiocy stop?]
(April 28, 1926 – February 19, 2016)
The author of one of the classics of American literature, To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee passed away today at the age of 89. A second novel, Go Set a Watchman, was published in 2015, fifty-five years after her first novel.
I found these while poking around Facebook the other day. Use them as you see fit…write flash fiction, short stories, poems, songs, or incorporate them into your novel in progress. Whatever you do in 2016, WRITE! (Just be careful with January 25.)
Writing and drawing for comic books is a true art form, and the skills needed to succeed are much different than what a short story writer or novelist might utilize. Here are some books to help those who are exploring their talents in the comic art form.
- Words For Pictures by Brian Michael Bendis
- Creating Graphic Novels by Sarah Beach
- Mastering Comics by Jessica Abel & Matt Madden
- The Art of Comic Book Writing by Mark Kneece
- Foundations in Comic Book Art by John Paul Lowe
- How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Most writers who dream of working in comics love to read them as well, so they may also enjoy the books below.
There are innumerable books on the market targeted toward aspiring authors. Some are more worthwhile than others. Here is a short list of some books that writers might find useful.
- Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents
- Editor-Proof Your Writing by Don McNair
- The Writer’s Devotional by Amy Peters
- Fast Fiction by Denise Jaden
- 500 Words You Should Know by Caroline Taggart
While those books can be very beneficial, there are three that are indispensable. Find out if the books listed below are on your friend’s bookshelf, and if not, you have a perfect Christmas gift.
- The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
- The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler
- Roget’s Thesaurus or The Merriam-Webster Thesaurus
Tomorrow: ideas for an aspiring comic book writer and/or artist.